©2001 NewFoundations

Howard Gardner's Educational Theory

Analyst: Michelle Matrisciano


edited 8/18/11

1. Theory of Value: What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of education?

The study of intelligence for the most part of the 200 century has been based on the study of a "g" factor, supposedly unitary and consistent.1 Gardner's approach has been to find a quantifiable, consistent means by which intelligence may be assessed not taking for granted that there is one general underlying factor. Integral to this means of assessing intelligence is Gardner's definition of intelligence: A biophysical potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture 2

Knowledge and skills fall into two distinct "domains"3 These domains are determined by a society for the most part. There are, however, some domains that are "universal" and thus being are necessary for humans of all societies to possess e.g. logical/mathematical ability. A "cultural" domain is a skill such as map making which is specific to certain cultures but not all. Those skills that are worthwhile learning are those that provide for the continuation of the culture as dictated by the environment and by the culture. Education, in this perspective, is the means by which individuals born into a society are "socialized according to prevailing norms, values and practices."4

2. Theory of Knowledge: What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? What is a lie?

Knowledge, to Gardner, is what an individual utilizes "to resolve genuine problems or difficulties that he or she encounters and, when appropriate, to create an effective product - and must also entail the potential for finding or creating problems - thereby laying the groundwork for the acquisition of new knowledge."5 At the same time, knowledge types are seen to be "sets of intelligences which meet certain biological and psychological specifications."6 This is to say that there is to be a set basis for the determination of individual intelligence factors universally. Belief is defined as "a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing" .7 It is not empirically measurable, therefore it is a factor that is not defined or explained by Gardner. A mistake is a part of the process of learning and creating new knowledge. Lying is a skill and only assessable in the degree of success by which it may be utilized to reach a desired end.

3. Theory of Human Nature: What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?

Gardner states that the ability to use "various symbolic vehicles in expressing and communicating meanings distinguishes human beings sharply from other organisms." He goes on to say that, "[s]ymbal use has been key in the evolution of human nature, giving rise to myth, language, art, science; it has also been central in the highest creative achievements of human beings, all of which exploit the human symbolic faculty." What has made such a distinction between man and animal, to Gardner, is the ability to utilize symbols. As far as human potential is concerned, Gardner does not see a limit to human ability based on the distinction of the intelligences, but sees most abilities of humans and a combination of these intelligences.

4. Theory of Learning: What is learning? How are skills and knowledge acquired?

Learning is the "means of acquiring information"8. Learning is the building up of the skill set within one intelligence classification by means of utilizing other skills learned in one or several other intelligence classifications. There are several ways of learning that are separate from and related to the intelligences. Although the personal basis for the ability to learn is by utilizing a cross-section of the intelligences and their respective skills, this is not the sole factor. The external factors for learning are varied for the task to be learned and are utilized as means to communicate the skills to be learned by means of the various intelligences. Skills are acquired by the successful targeting of the external skills to the intelligence.

5. Theory of Transmission: Who is to teach? By what methods? What will the curriculum be?

Gardner does not so much involve himself with who is to teach, as much as how are individuals with varying degrees of intelligence to be taught. The gifted, he suggests should apprentice with the master. Those who have difficulty developing in certain divisions of intelligence should be given means by which to circumvent those areas that have not sufficient skill sets to be of maximal use in assisting learning for those that do.9 All others (in the middle of these extremes) should have a larger set of procedures and resources from which to draw from considering factors such as individual ability, competing demands and available time of the instructor.

6. Theory of Society: What is society? What institutions are involved in the educational process?

Society in the perspective of Gardner is the medium for the existence of the individual. Members of a society have like intellectual needs because they have the common goal of existence as individuals and as a group. To exist in this way they must propagate common norms, values and practices necessary for the longevity of that society and so doing must educate new members along the common ways10 The institutions involved in the process of educating the young are varied but always follow the traditions of the older members. Depending on the objectives of the education process, the setting varies. For example, a young divinity student is more likely to be taught in a religious setting by an instructor of exemplary moral coding than a young warrior who is more likely to be found in "bush training" by an experienced soldier.11 The institutions involved in the process are not especially of placement but chosen to maximize exposure of the skills desired to their intellectual components.

7. Theory of Opportunity: Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled?

In Gardner's view all are to be educated, for nothing else but the sake of inclusion into society. The degree of schooling is dependent on the needs of the society and the capabilities of the individual.12

8. Theory of Consensus: Why do people disagree? How is consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?

Within Gardner's framework is not the consideration of interaction between members outside of the point that they do what they think needs be done for the society on the whole. However, Gardner's view is not in a void and the greater disagreement can be seen looking at Gardner's view in contrast to the views of his predecessors. Piaget took for granted that the development of the intellect was as linear as the development of the body. 13 The existence of idiot savants and child prodigies challenges this notion because an individual with one superior ability is contrary to the horizontal, linear approach that Piaget's theory puts forth. The strength of Gardner's approach and the means by which consensus may be achieved in this area is by total application of the scientific method to all aspects of the study of intelligence. The famous Harvard psychologist, E. G. Boring, set the present day tone of psychological thought on intelligence by stating that "Intelligence is what the tests test.14 Gardner's application of scientific techniques to more deeply understand what intelligence is in a universally empirical way utilizing the standards and rules of the scientific community. 'The " g" factor, as proposed by Charles Spearman, is what was assumed to be a general overriding factor of intelligence which is measured by every task on an intelligence test.


1. Frames Of Mind, the Tenth Anniversary Edition (New York: Basic Books, 1993) p. 16

2. Intelligence Reframed (New York: BasicBooks, 1999) p.23

3. Frames Of Mind p. 27

4. Frames Of Mind p. 332

5. Frames Of Mind p. 61

6. Frames Of Mind p. 62

7. Belief. A statement taken from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. http://www.m-w.com/cgi- bin/dictionary

8. Frames Of Mind p. 25

9. Frames Of Mind p. 25

10. Frames Of Mind p. 224

11. Frames Of Mind p. 338

12. Frames Of Mind p. 369

13. Frames Of Mind p. 21

14. Intelligence Reframed p. 13